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A TASTE FROM MY NEW BOOK on Jewish Ethnic Recipes
Ushpalau ~ Bukharan
"Without speaking a word in Hebrew, only smiles and the international language of food, a line of Bukharan women cooked us ushpalau as prepared by their grandmothers – without weights, without measurements, handful of this and a dash of that, while we were measured and recorded every step,” This is how Ruth Oliver described her first encounter with this wonderful dish during a workshop on traditional Bukharan cooking. Ushpalau (or Plov) is indeed lovely, laden with goodies (beef, garlic, rice, chickpeas and spices) with oodles of carrots that add sweetness and a wonderful golden hue to the rice.
Note: You’ll only use a bit of the spice mixture; the rest store in an airtight container and use to flavor rice and meat dishes.
2¾ lbs (1¼ kg) beef, cut into 1 inch (2 cm) cubes
3 cups round rice
2-3 teaspoons salt
¼ cup oil (or more if needed)
2 large onions, sliced
2 lbs (1 kg) carrots, peeled and cut into matchsticks (or coarsely shredded)
1-2 whole heads garlic, tops and bottoms sliced off
1 cup cooked chickpeas (canned or frozen ones can be used as well)
1. Crush the spices with a mortar and pestle or in a spice grinder.
2. Soak rice in a large bowl with a teaspoon of salt and boiling water to cover for about 15 minutes. Rinse well in cold water several times until it runs clear and dry in a colander.
3. Heat ¼ cup oil in a frying pan and brown the cubes of meat until they change color (work in batches if necessary). Transfer to a medium sized pot with a little frying oil.
4. Fry the onions in the same pan pan with the remaining oil until they begin to soften. Sprinkle over the meat.
5. Pour ½ cup water over the meat and onions and cook for about 30 minutes over low heat until meat is tender. Arrange carrots over the meat and put garlic on top. Spread chickpeas, sprinkle with 2 tablespoons of the spice mixture and salt. Cover, reduce the heat to minimum and cook for another 30 minutes.
6. Add the drained rice to the pot, pepper generously, and gently spoon boiling water over until it reaches 1 inch (2-cm) above the rice (spoon will distribute the water evenly without disturbing the layers). Using the handle of a wooden spoon, form 7 “chimney” holes in the rice down to the bottom. Add a generous pinch of salt, bring to a boil, cover with a tight fitting lid and simmer on minimal heat for 35 minutes until the rice is done. Set aside for about 10 minutes before serving.
Variation: Sprinkle with one cup of pomegranate kernels before serving.